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A local guide to Barcelona

27 Aug

I spent the past 2.5 months living and working in Barcelona and wrote a short guide for future people moving there. Barcelona is an easy place to get around. Here it is, touristy things first and housekeeping items last.

Places to Eat (combined from various friends)

Nice bars for tapas:

  • La Pepita: original, creative tapas
  • Bar El Pla: El Born, good and affordable tapas, some with a creative touch
  • Tossa: very good value for Spanish tapas.
  • Bar Tomàs: Sarrià, best Patatas Bravas, gets crowded but it’s a must; if you go at night you can afterwards head to OKSarria, with really good Chilicheeseburgers 😉
  • Bar Turó: San Gervasi, also good patatas bravas and nicer spot
  • Antigua fabrica Moritz: Paralel, old beer factory converted into restaurant
  • Balthasar’s: apparently an ESADE favourite, where the patatas bravas are excellent.
  • Cal Pinotxo: Raval, on the expensive side, in the Boqueria market

Fresh Seafood tapas:

  • Morryson’s: my favourite place in Gracia for tapas, great price/quality of food ratio.
  • Nou Candanchu: delicious, original seafood tapas.
  • Canmaño: seafood so fresh, always day of, and terribly well-priced
  • La Paradeta: You select your own seafood and they cook it for you, the location in Sagrada Familia is less crowded than the Born location, which usually has a 2 hour wait in the evenings.

Good Paella:

  • Can Majó (Barceloneta)
  • El Chiringuito de la Mari (Barceloneta)
  • Sal Café (Barceloneta)

Old/traditional restaurants/bars:

  • Can Culleretes (Raval, oldest restaurant in Barcelona, typical Catalan food)
  • Granja Viadé (raval, good Suis: hot chocolate+cream)
  • Granja Sirvent (Paralel, good Horchata and Leche merengada)

Places to have a drink with views:

  • Mirablau (San Gervasi, overlooks the city from the closest mountain)
  • Hotel Condes de Barcelona rooftop bar (Eixample, nice rooftop bar with views to the Pedrera and Sagrada Familia)

Nice places in Gracia:

  • Origens: tasty, features a lot of Catalan dishes; also in El Born
  • Pappa E Citti: Italian/Catalan restaurant, with foodies as the waitresses. So much food!
  • Kibuka (good Japanese)
  • Sureny (creative tapas, not fancy decoration, but the food is really good)
  • Gelatteria Cafeteria Italiana in Plaça de la Revolució (one of the best ice cream places in Barcelona)
  • Creperie Bretonne (good crepes, and a classic of the area)

Fancier restaurants:

  • Comerç 24 (Ciutadella, modern tapas by a follower of Ferran Adria – El Bulli)
  • Passadis del Pep (Barri Gotic, really good seafood place, no menu, they just start bringing stuff, expensive!)
  • Da Greco: the surprise package of 3 vegetarian pastas is tasty, great tiramisu, and every entree comes with a side dish for the rest of the table to share.

Things to Do

  • Tourist sites:

    • Fat Tire Bike tours
    • All the Gaudi stuff (Park Guell, Pedrera, Batllo, etc)
    • The Plaza Espana route: Plaza España, Magic Fountain (which plays on Fri/Sat night), MNAC (free on Saturday afternoons and first Sundays), Olympic Stadium, Poble Espanyol (tiny replicas of architectural styles across Spain, not that impressive), Montjuic Castle, Cemetery at Montjuic (free tours on Sundays).
    • Sagrada Familia. I got a 3-hr tour from a fantastic guide, Tomas, who is a volunteer with the Church and gives special access to the crypt, basilica. Free, but donations accepted (people usually give 20 euros, because it’s so good). Only in Spanish.  tlurbis@hotmail.com
    • Montserrat is amazing for rock climbing/hiking. A local runner-up could be Tibidao.
    • The Barceloneta closer to the W has less pickpockets, supposedly.

Transportation

  • Bicing is amazing–45 euros for a year and you can take a bike out for 30 minutes at a time. There’re stops everywhere + a killer app with locations. Sometimes, bicing stations are out of bikes, but I’ve never walked very far without finding another one. You’ll need a Spain driver’s license/national ID–my roommate signed me up.
  • Metro is v.easy and if you get the 10 rides card for 9.80 euros, it’s much cheaper than the the single ride price tag of 2 euros. There’s also monthly passes.
  • RENFE Spain Pass is 4 legs for 160 euros. Super-cheap, includes AVE, and only for tourists.
  • Taxi: 933.07.07.07, a premier service that uses Mercedes, yet still charges the same rate as other taxis. Also, they don’t do sneaky fees such as charging you for waiting or for the route to the apt (if you call a taxi).

Routine Things

  • Finding a phone: any cell phone carrier will do, they are all the same. Orange, Vodafone, or Telefonica have similar plans and network strength. Approx 5 euros for the SIM card and 8 centavos a minute/15 centavos per text.
  • You can find anything in Spain–would recommend packing less so you can bring home more. But pack sunscreen–it’s hella expensive in Spain.
  • I used a CapitalOne credit card and ATM card, which eliminated the fx fees and actually gave the exchange rate at market.

Finding a Place

  • Websites/Resources:

    • Loquo.com: the most listings, by far.
    • Idealista
    • AirBnb
    • Fotocasa.es: more for buying a place, but has some listings
    • Facebook group for IESE, ESADE. Also ask your facebook friends/connections to post ads for you.
  • Ask about how much light the room gets and if it’s interior (from inside the house)/exterior light. A room in an apartment in Gracia will run about 300-450 euros, and you can get discounts if you’re planning to stay longer.

Brushing up on Spanish

  • Duolingo.com, for good grammar practice
  • They sell tons of grammar books at Casa de libros, I liked Schaum’s Outline of Spanish Grammar the best.
  • Shurweb.es for streaming movies and tv shows.
  • Conversationexchange.com, for intercambios. Apparently the ratio of Spanish to English speakers is 10:1, so you’ll never be short of a practice partner. Also a great way to meet people.
  • You can also take lessons, which run 20 euros per hour (private lessons). Laura Castilla is a great teacher from Ole Barcelona and can give discounts.
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Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) Impressions

5 Feb

While TERI’s 11th annual sustainability summit showcased many VIPs (so many former prime ministers, nobel laureates, and nonprofit bigwigs showed up that they were crammed together on one panel and spread across other panels…just see this list of speakers), I left a little disappointed. Admittedly, this was largely a conference on climate change and carbon emissions reduction, an informal Copenhagen without the stressful negotiating and country-protectionism, a discussion including the theoretics of academics and the vagueness of politicians, and thus, the topic was out of my knowledge scope (the most I know or cared to know about Cancún was that nothing happened.)

This year’s theme, “Tapping Local Initiatives and Tackling Global Inertia” promised great fodder for lively debate, but it became apparent that speaker inertia was a problem: each speech was a platform for the country’s propaganda of its environmental programs and I’m not sure if real issues were addressed. Well, a few audience members tried to bring them up, throwing out softball questions such as “What are the possibilities for local solutions to reduce carbon emissions?” and were dismissed by answers such as “That issue is too complicated to address here.” I will not mention the speech of the Guatemalan minister of the environment who appeared as if he’d just come from an opium den. The conference’s political and academic focus was a gripe for TERI students–I suppose we expected tangible results, conclusions and outlines of next steps–while it was a boon for industry attendees, who expect much global inertia (more than a few snarky comments were made about the U.S.’s refusal to participate in Kyoto and notably, representation from the U.S. government was lacking). A director with the Ministry of Environment in Japan remarked to me that the conference was delightfully light after the tough negotiations and standoffs at Cancún. Another veteran of the industry told me that he enjoyed the conference although they’d been talking about the same issues for 20 years.

Themes/Ideas from the one day that I attended of the conference:

  • Global Inertia is preventing action on climate change.  We cannot go on protecting our own country’s right to pollute and must think of the smaller countries.  A carbon cap on pollution per capita would help solve this, but the U.S. would never agree to it.  It must be noted that though the Indian Minister of Environment is most outspoken on this subject of global collaboration, he admitted that his purpose at Cancun was to protect India….political realities here.
  • One Global Carbon Price.  A bold idea. This would eliminate cross-pollution where one factory simply moves their operations to another country, but you can imagine the high cost of development for developing countries.
  • Continued Stalling on Climate Change Issues. Predicting of continued debates over legally binding agreements to cut emissions, how much to cut by (2 degree vs. 1.5 degree change), and when to cut.
  • Include Marine Biology in Carbon Counting. Much of the focus has been on land, in the forests, algae and plants.  Marine biology is equally affected by carbon buildup.

 

Wasteland

3 Nov

I wish I could see this movie.

http://www.wastelandmovie.com

Visa Run – My One Day in American Samoa

30 Nov

Since a student visa costs $200, I thought it’d be cheaper and more fun to do a visa run to American Samoa. It’s not really either of the two, but I still had an unexpectedly good time.  For those who don’t know, American Samoa is the island next to Samoa that was claimed by the U.S. and is now a U.S. territory.  The Samoans in the NFL are from American Samoa rather than Samoa, which is rugby-crazy instead.  Most of the Samoans in the States are probably from American Samoa as well.

I wasn’t terribly excited about this trip, because my colleagues and pretty much every Samoan I asked said that American Samoa was uglier than Samoa with no real beaches and there wasn’t much to do.  Hmmmph.  Since the hotels, even the cheaper motels with cockroach infestations, in American Samoa run about $80-130 per night, being a cheapo or practicalist, I tried to book a flight where I never had to leave the airport—I could land in American Samoa and immediately fly back to Samoa.  But those were booked out because of Thanksgiving weekend and so I did the next best thing, booked myself for less than a day—22 hours, to be precise—in American Samoa.

The plane ride to American Samoa was amazing!  I took a 15-seater prop plane out of a tiny airport that does not meet FAA standards (we literally shot out of the mountains with a short runway.)  A Samoan woman who was too large for her seat gripped and patted my knee in fear for half of the trip.  I love Samoan displays of affection, they are so touchy-feely!  I sat literally behind the cock-pit and since there was no door, I could see out of the pilot’s window if I semi-stood up, which I did for half of trip and nobody bothered to stop me.  From my window, which rattled constantly because it was next to the propeller, I could see the turquoise and aquamarine pools created by reefs—it doesn’t usually look like this color up close.   Samoa looked lush and green and very much exotic—the kind you can appreciate from far away.   In comparison, as we neared American Samoa (35 minutes away), American Samoa was much smaller, more mountainous and—I could tell this from airspace—richer.  The roofs were not rusted, like Samoa’s, but a nice white.

The plane..how cute!

I could've tapped a pilot on the shoulder...

Squished!

Samoa from above

Lalomanu Beach...one of the best in Samoa which was tsunami-wrecked

On land, American Samoa seemed like a community from the tv show Lost.   Or, if you’ve never seen Lost, it was like a small Texas town transplanted in a jungle.   The place was football-crazy!  There were spirited hand-painted signs, the kind that high-school cheerleaders make for homecoming, hanging from houses, the main road, businesses, everywhere.  There really isn’t much to do (it’s like living in College Station.  Ooh, diss!), but I loved it perhaps a little better than Samoa, because air was clean, the temperature was less hot, the roads were less dusty, and there were so many mountains.  I couldn’t stop staring at how gorgeous and dramatic it looked.   The main area of town had a seawall and looked a bit modern—it’s amazing how a place sparkles when it’s touched up with a bit of construction and modernity—perhaps that’s a bit of an arrogantly American thing to say, but I did feel a bit comforted looking at a scene somewhat familiar and without run-down shacks.

So what did I do in American Samoa?  Well, my original “plans” went somewhat awry.  I put plans in quotations, because as usual, I hastily threw something together the day before and assumed it would work.   I had planned to stay at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar in a fale, wooden hut, on the beach and either visit the tuna canneries (apparently American Samoa is home to both the Starkist and the Chicken of the Sea canneries, which produce half of the canned tuna fish, around $500 million worth for the U.S.  But due to the recession and the minimum wage hike in American Samoa, one of the canneries is closing down, cutting out 2,000 workers, who I heard might come to Houston now) or hike along the national park Saturday morning.  But none of this happened, because of an airport delay which prevented me from getting to Tisa’s.

Luckily, I ran into a family at the airport, on their way back from vacation in New Zealand, and they graciously offered to take me to their home up in the mountains.  Their home was a classic American house, but it seemed like a king’s palace in Samoa—there was furniture which looked Crate and Barrel, a modern electric oven, refrigerator, a 32-inch television, and all those other luxuries which I didn’t know were available in Samoa.  (They aren’t…the family, the Gurrs, imported everything from America.)  It was surreal seeing the children’s rooms color-coordinated in pink and candles in the bathroom.  I felt like I was staying with the Kennedys of American Samoa.  The Gurrs lived next to all of their families and as soon as they came home, children and neighbors came streaming in from every direction and were offered and fed ice cream, cookies, and milk.  It was great.  The dad went wild boar hunting the next day—I wish I could’ve stayed longer to see the hunt.

I went home to Samoa safely and had another airport delay, of course.  It was a little strange, because the airport was empty and almost deserted, save for the few passengers waiting.  All of the airport workers were out to lunch and I couldn’t check in until half an hour past my original flight time, when they came back from lunch.

Bad photo...sorry, American Samoa is much prettier than this!

Parking Lot that was hit by tsunami

The Gurrs and me